Interviews by New America Media with elected board members from diverse backgrounds in several California districts underscore how being a school board member ¬ – long viewed as a starting point for higher political office ¬¬ – has become an exercise in decision making of the toughest kind.
“We’ve moved from saying ‘no, never, we can’t cut that, to ‘which of the horrible options in front of us are possibilities to cut?’” said Mónica García, Los Angeles Unified Board president.
García remembers calling LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines earlier this year to suggest that the district might have to consider cutting the school year for the first time.
The district ended up doing precisely that – cutting one week not just from the coming 2010-2011 school year, but also from the one that just concluded in June.
“The decision to cut the school year came by acknowledging that the other choices were worse,” explained García.
“By increasing class size and reducing supportive services for kids in schools, we’ve already participated in actions that could be characterized as ‘education malpractice,’” García said. “When you are looking at whether to raise class size by another five kids in K-3 or should we eliminate arts and athletics, we decided it would be better to shorten the school year.”
San Francisco Unified School District board member Jane Kim said that the decision to trim the school year by four days was made when almost every school program was in jeopardy. “We tried to make sure our cuts wouldn't hurt our primary goal, which is to close the achievement gap,” she said. “We tried to keep as many services as possible in the schools, like nurses, counselors, social workers, and programs for lower-income students.”
Many parents, she said, were receptive to the board’s decision to cut instructional days.
“If we didn’t reduce the school year, we would have dramatically increased classroom size,” Kim said. "This wouldn't have been ideal because parents view small classrooms as the key to having quality schools."
Priscilla Cox, a board member at the Elk Grove Unified School District outside Sacramento, said no one was happy about having to reduce the school year because many believe “the school year is already too short to get through all the instruction and material required by California’s high standards.”
“To know what works in schools, but not be able to (do what we need to do) because we don’t have the resources is devastating,” said Cox.
Teachers, however, supported the board's decision to shorten the school year. "From their perspective, class size is one of the most important strategies to meet the state’s standards," she said.
This spring, the Elk Grove sent out pink slips to 790 teachers and counselors. After a range of budget cuts were finalized 114 teachers ended up getting laid off, and the district was able to keep K-3 class sizes to 24 students.
Chino board member Sylvia Orozco, a parent of three children who have attended China schools, faced a similar dilemma. The district had already reduced the number of librarians, and eliminated intervention counselors. The caseload for regular school counselors has ballooned to four hundred students per counselor.
"Board members, administrators and teachers were thinking 'what a shame' over losing five days of instruction," she said. "But the alternative would have possibly been more layoffs."
In some districts, however, board members believe that preserving the school calendar is preferable to other options.
In Oakland, for example, where the district just seven years ago was facing insolvency, the board agreed unanimously not to cut the school year, and to make other cuts instead. “When we first did our budget at the beginning of last year, we made a commitment that we weren't going to cut any instruction days," said Oakland school board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge.
For many Oakland students, school is a safe haven away from violence that takes place on the streets. As a result, Hinton-Hodge said the board felt it would send completely the wrong message if the district cut the school year. “In fact, we want to see longer school days and more school days in the academic year," she said.
What concerns Los Angeles board president García is that despite make the tough call to shorten the school year, her district still has a long way to go toward resolving its budget problems. “We are still making lots of cuts at school sites and that is generating anger and outrage,” she said.
“Will our kids start falling through the cracks?” worries Chino board member Sylvia Orozco. “ All I can say is – I hope not.”
(The Root) -- While the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 has become a certified success, attracting…
Imagine an awards ceremony where everyone in the audience--winners and losers -- weeps. Okay, not…
Photo: Courtesy Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s HealthSAN FRANCISCO – For over a year, Pamela…
WEST HOLLYWOOD – Dozens of immigration reform activists rallied in front of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s…
California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su said March 13 she has issued citations totaling nearly…
The number of CUSD students participating in the free and reduced lunch program hovered for…